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The Alberta Tory leadership race: Lukaszuk's out, Horner's still in, Redford is channeling Nenshi

Alberta Tory non-candidate Tom Lukaszuk

Farewell, Tom Lukaszuk, we hardly knew ye!

After months of speculation that Thomas Lukaszuk, staunch loyalist to Premier Ed Stelmach and Alberta's minister of employment and immigration, was about to throw his hat into the Tory leadership ring, well… he hasn't.

When Lukaszuk, or someone, ran the idea up the proverbial flagpole, the point of the exercise presumably was to see who saluted. Apparently nobody did. Or insufficient numbers, at any rate, to raise the $40,000 entry fee Lukaszuk would have required to become an official candidate by the deadline for nominations on July 15.

Who knows, maybe the kiss of death was when some lefty blogger suggested he was smart enough to make an OK premier … for a Tory, anyway. Or maybe it was a well-placed Gary Mar supporter in cabinet running around the back corridors of the Legislature building telling errant ministers none too gently what their chances of being in any future cabinet will be if they don't watch their step and endorse the right candidate right now.

Whatever it was, Lukaszuk has now officially pulled the plug on his candidacy that never was and endorsed Mar.

Lukaszuk called a presser in the dying days of June at what the Calgary Herald termed Edmonton's "prestigious Royal Glenora Club" (generously supported by your federal tax dollars, but never mind that just now) to announce that he's a Mar-man now.

No one will ever say Lukaszuk was the best premier Alberta never had -- that's Kevin Taft, and Taft was a Liberal -- but you have to admit he was the potential premier with the coolest haircut.

Regardless, that leaves six candidates in the race and two others who had floated a trial balloon or two of their own still neither in nor out. One never likes to say never, especially this close to a deadline just made to prove a blogger wrong, but it seems increasingly unlikely that either Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett or Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky will do anything more than what Lukaszuk has done.

Of the two, it's fair to say that only Zwozdesky has either the profile or the political skills to be a serious candidate. But with the race increasingly seeming like it's between Mar -- the choice of the party establishment -- and Alison Redford, who at the moment seems to be emerging as the Anybody-But-Gary candidate, it's hard to imagine that there would be much percentage in a late entry now, even for the famously smooth Minister Zwoz.

Meanwhile, it is astonishing that Ted Morton -- a seasoned campaigner with the support of the always-plentiful Conservative hard right -- has been so quiet so far in the campaign. It's almost enough to make one wonder what he's got up his well-tailored sleeve.

At this point, it would be a surprise to this observer if any of the other three candidates -- Doug Horner, who started strong and has since almost disappeared, Doug Griffiths, who probably wishes now he hadn't started at all, and Rick Orman, who has pots of money and at least appears to be having fun -- do much more than force the race to a second ballot.

Horner tried to remedy his ground-level profile with a news conference yesterday on the steps of the Legislature, allegedly about his education policy and his eccentric notion about how to organize the premier's office, but really to trot out half a dozen rural MLAs who have endorsed his candidacy.

As blogger Dave Cournoyer, who attended Mr. Horner's newser, reported, "in reality it was used as an opportunity to remind the media that despite the attention-making campaigns of Alison Redford and Gary Mar, Mr. Horner is still in this race."

Notwithstanding that, this race increasingly looks like a very public contest between Mr. Mar and Ms. Redford, with Dr. Morton standing in the shadows, Darth Vader like, awaiting his moment to strike.

Redford's campaign, interestingly, is reminding observers of the campaign run by Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who came from behind last October to triumph in a three-way race by constantly issuing public challenges to frontrunner Rick McIvor and former broadcaster Barb Higgins for one-one-one debates.

Nenshi's campaign co-chairman? Stephen Carter, once the chief of staff to Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith back in her salad days, and now the chief strategist for Redford.

Carter is a guy Edmonton Journal columnist Graham Thomson once called "a political weather vane." Want to know which way the political wind is blowing in Alberta, Thomson wrote, "just take a peek at the direction Stephen Carter is pointed."

Well, right now he's pointed Redford's way, and her campaign seems to be picking up steam.

However, as the late British Labour prime minister Harold Wilson famously observed in 1964, "a week is a long time in politics." There are not quite 11 weeks until the first-ballot vote in the Alberta Conservative leadership contest, so, almost by definition, anything could happen.

Except for Tom Lukaszuk becoming the premier, of course.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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